Denfeld News

May, 1994
The Senior Reporter

She’ll even promise you a rose garden
By Margaret Haapoja

Helen Lind’s love of gardening harkens back to a book — The Harvester — that she read in the seventh grade. She recalls the story: “A man fell in love with this lady on a train. He built a house for her. And I still remember all the things he planted for her in their garden.

“My favorite, favorite flowers are pink roses. As a young lady, I embroidered a tablecloth in cross stitch. It was pink roses and blue forget-me-nots.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that forget-me-nots edge the walkways in Duluth’s Enger Park today.

A native of West Duluth, Lind came to her career as a gardener for the city of Duluth late in life. At the age of 50, after bringing up a family of five, she received a call from Mayor John Fedo.

“He said the city wanted a rock garden up at Enger. Someone suggested we do that circle up in the parking lot, but I thought that doesn’t seem right. I decided that the area in front of the building there would make a beautiful rock garden. The paths just sort of made themselves naturally. We put down pea gravel, and my girlfriend gave me $25 worthof bulbs. That’s how the gardens got started.”

Helen officially began her work as part-time city gardener in 1979. She ordered flowers for plantings and took care of the Civic Center circle.

Gradually her position has expanded and now she finds herself and her crew in charge of everything from the entrance to the Waterfront Trail on Grand Avenue to Enger Park, the golf courses and the zoo, plus all the planters on Superior Street, Lakewalk, and Canal Park.

“My guys are like machines,” she says, praising her crew. “They set out an average of 6,000 plants a day in the spring, 80,000 annual flowers a year.”

Two of her crew were working in the perennial beds at Enger Park last July. Weeding and edging as he talked, Mike Tofte pointed out sweet woodruff. With unmistakable affection, he described Enger Park as “a place to restore your sanity in this crazy world.”

Indeed, the park is one of the showplace gardens of the state. People come from miles around to soak up the serenity, to study the specimens, to picnic and read and enjoy the view.

Speaking of Enger Park in particular, Lind says, “If I don’t take credit for anything else, I think we’ve shown the people of Duluth what it could look like. I think the landscapes and the nurseries will tell you that their businesses have grown. I think that’s because of what the city of Duluth has done here.”

Transformed from a rubble-filled hangout for teenagers back in the 1960s, Enger Park is always in a state of flux. “It’s like any other garden,” says Lind. “It evolves. As it matures you’re going to have to change the plantings. The main garden didn’t start out as it is today. It started out to be a very sunny garden. I had the trees trimmed by the forestry department the first year, but they’ve filled out. Year by year it gets shadier, so we’ve gone to the hostas and the other shade plants. A garden changes every day, it changes every week, it changes every season.”

Along the neat pathways were mounds of cabbage-like bergenia with shiny, ruffled leaves; spear-shaped iris foliage; pillows of spiderwort with purple, three-petaled flowers; feathery plumes of pink and white astilbe; and tall spikes of yellow ligularia.

Helen’s knack for combining plants is evident in beds on the northern edge of Enger Park. “Enger’s new area has rivers of forget-me-nots and sweet woodruff surrounding the azaleas and rhodies — ‘Lavender Lights’ azalea, ‘PJM’ rhododendron and ‘White Nancy’ lamium,” she ticks off the familiar names. “What we try to do is use ground covers, like lamium and ajuga, so we don’t have to weed. We combine ‘Blue Rug’ juniper with variegated mahogany ajuga. That area is all lavender and violet with azaleas and rhodies.”

Helen recommends adding alfalfa meal in addition to peat moss when establishing a new bed. “It starts the microorganisms working,” she explains. “It’s like adding green manure to your soil.”

Asked about her favorite perennials, Helen exclaims, “I love hostas—all kinds of hostas. I don’t think people realize how many there are. Have you seen that big one up at Enger? It’s a tall yellow one called ‘Sum and Substance,’ and by the time fall comes around everybody talks about it. Each leaf is about 24 inches long. Some are puckered, some are seersuckered and some are wavy on the end.”

Defining her love of foliage and texture, she continues, “I love astilbes. With my hostas, you’ve got this big, structural leaf, and with astilbes, you’ve got this kind of finer thing.” Another favorite is “May Knight,” a tall, dark purple salvia planted in front of City Hall.

Helen’s final challenge as a city gardener is to help restore the rose garden uprooted by the freeway. Unrolling the architect’s plans for the new rose garden down by the new Lakewalk, her eyes sparkled as she described circles of roses based on color. “That’s an art in itself — the rose garden,” she says. As much as possible, the restored rose garden will reflect the original in the particular varieties of roses as well as trees and other specimen plants.

According to Mayor Gary Doty, more than $1.2 million has been invested the city in creating the new rose garden. Helen has ordered more than 2,000 roses to be planted in a design emulating an English garden. Evergreens will frame the entry and pathways of used brick will lead visitors into the first circle of orange and yellow flowers.

Familiar roses like “Oregold,” “King’s Ransom,” “Shining Hour,” “Perfect Moment” and “Tropicana” will comprise that circle in both tree and shrub form. A fountain bed will include red and white roses like “Double Delight,” “Honor” and “Mr. Lincoln.”

Pink roses such as “Tiffany,” “Sonia” and “Queen Elizabeth” will surround an herb garden.

And a bed made up entirely of popular “Peace” roses will echo the old rose garden. Most of the Roses will be All American Rose Society winners, and the park will be punctuated with pyramidal arborvitae as exclamation points.

When the rose garden is planted, Helen says her job will be finished. She plans to retire this year. Then she will “read, stay up all night if I want to and sleep late.” And no doubt, she’ll continue to garden.

“I think gardening is the most rewarding hobby anyone can have,” she says.

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